I have to claim ignorance here…..I knew that being selected to officiate at a world championships was a great honour, but I had no idea how an official’s status was elevated by being tasked with refereeing a bout in the finals.
This past weekend I was at the Boxing Canada Semi-Annual Meeting. During the day, it was mentioned by both our National President Pat Fiacco, and National Chief Official Sonny Wong, that Boxing Ontario official Jennifer Huggins performed very well at her recent Official’s Training Seminar, and also at the Women’s World Championships in Korea.
Yesterday I sent Jen a message congratulating her on her accomplishments (and also to wish her a happy birthday), and asked her to send me a few lines for me to use in my soon-to-be-published presidential newsletter. As usual, Jennifer went above and beyond, providing me with a very detailed account of her recent experiences. What impressed me the most is that an official, recently recognized as one of the best in the world, got off the plane from Korea, and essentially went into Toronto to officiate at the Agency Wars Club Show.
Read about Jennifer’s experience below:
When I was invited by AIBA to the 2014 Women’s World Championships in Jeju Korea, I knew it was a big deal. I had no idea how big of an accomplishment it was until coming home and finally absorbing the experience. What stands out as the most unanticipated achievement was experiencing the finals as a referee. Each one of the athletes who made it to the championships were representing their countries as the best of the best. It was clear to me that this tournament was going to be extremely competitive boxing on the first day of the preliminary bouts.
The preliminary portion of any tournament is used to narrow down the competition – to see the top boxers in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals and to allow the best to compete for a medal, ultimately gold. This was a tough task for the judges too, as these women came ready to leave it all in the ring. What many don’t realize, is that as the pressure increases for the boxers, it also increases for the officials. As a referee you have to be on the ball, ready to make split second decisions that could impact the outcome of the bout. As a judge your focus needs to be there from the sound of the first bell until the moment the bout is over. For many of the preliminary sessions, this means 7 am weigh-ins followed by 2 sessions with over 30 bouts spread across 2 rings. It is no light task, your actions as an official will decide the outcome of all the hard work and dedication these athletes devote their lives to.
The task as an official at these tournaments doesn’t come without tremendous support. In addition to many the extremely supportive supervisors and ITOs that I have met over the past year, I was fortunate to have also had Boxing Canada’s President Pat Fiacco at ringside as the Deputy Supervisor of the tournament. Though we are not allowed to work any bouts in which our own country is competing, I had the moral support of our Canadian team. At one point, as I stepped into the ring for the final that I was reffing, I heard someone loudly yell out “GO JEN” followed by an extremely large cheer section. As I looked into the hundreds of audience members in disbelief, I realized that Mandy Bujold, from Ontario and her four other teammates were loudly cheering me on. I couldn’t help but acknowledge them with a big smile, which definitely brought down the nerves of what I was about to be a part of.
During the Officials meeting held before the Quarterfinals, the 35 referees including myself and 9 other women from around the world were briefed on the importance of our performance at this level of competition. We were reminded that our focus must be 100% dedicated to these athletes as they embark on the final leg of competition. The pressure increases for these competitors by their coaches and their countries as the winners from these bouts are guaranteed a medal. We were also informed that we were being evaluated on our performance as judges and referees as to how we would be used in the semifinals and finals. This was the moment you could almost taste the pressure felt by all of the officials in the room. Being so new to the International level, only 3 months to be exact, my expectations were nonexistent. I knew that being present at a tournament of this magnitude was a feat in itself.
The tournament had been going the best I could have ever dreamed for. My performance as a referee, the honour of being a judge; all with the constant support of the supervisors, I was feeling very good with my role as an official. When I was called to referee the 75 kg weight class in the semi finals, I thought my experience at the Worlds had hit its climax. I was overwhelmed with the idea that my supervisors saw me as fit to be working at that level of the competition. Well you can imagine my ultimate joy when they called “Canada” to referee the 54 kg final.
I wanted to give a special thank you to all of the athletes of Ontario, for providing me with competition inline with what I would be working with at the World Championships. Without this experience over the past 5 years, I have no doubt this accomplishment would not have come so quickly.